I went to the bon-odori (Dance of the Dead) festival at the infamous Yasukuni Shrine with my good friend Arthur and my new friends David and Koichiro. It was by far the most expensive, expansive, and crowded festival I have ever seen in Japan. Considering the very strong (but impossible to detect) right-wing aura of the place, the acres and acres of lantern walls (each lantern representing sizable monetary contributions from citizens or organizations) on either side of the walkway leading to two military-looking searchlights contributed to my creeping feeling of unease. It is hard to describe the sensation.
Some Japanese contend that for the average citizen, this shrine is no more signifigant than any other, but when you visit the on-site revisionist war museum, take into account the fact that convicted Japanese war criminals were surreptitiously added to the list of the symbolically interred, it feels like the source of an invisible reactionary ether that provides a chilling backdrop for the antics of Japanese nationalists.
Imagine a similar site in Germany, for example. Why is such loaded ambiguity tolerated in Japan? To me, this is really one of the great mysteries of international affairs. I know people who have dedicated their entire academic life to studying the issue, and they feel like the more they know about it, the more convoluted the whole affair seems.
It was a great, time, though, if you could shake off the dirty feeling that comes from knowing the place’s history. People were in traditional dress, spirits were high. Right-wing girls are the most beautiful Japanese women I’ve seen by far. We followed one frustrated twenty-something guy who was spending his evening trying to pick them up, passing from group to group with self-concious bravado and failing miserably. It didn’t help his case that he never stopped shifting his weight from foot to foot – a very strange social tic. When we left him he was trying his luck with some uninterested middle-schoolers. Hope springs eternal at Yasukuni Shrine!